Balancing the Federal Budget

Jack Bernard was the first director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia. He also served as a senior level executive with several national health care firms. Bernard served as Chair of the Jasper County Board of Commissioners and Republican Party.

President Trump has provided us with his fantasy wish list, otherwise known as his proposed budget. He proposes expanding military spending dramatically while generally cutting everything except entitlements. And, of course, he wants to reduce everyone’s taxes, especially the rich. It almost goes without saying that this document, with its dubious revenue growth assumptions, is dead on arrival in Congress.
When I was a County Commissioner, I was Chairman of the Tax Sub-Committee of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. I was pleased that as a rule both Democrats and Republicans wanted to see reasonable taxes and balanced budgets.
But, nationally there has been hesitancy on the part of both parties to make the hard choices necessary to balance the U.S. budget. They would rather cite talking points and blame each other. I suppose they mirror the divisions in our population, but one would hope that they could rise above.
Back in 2011 we had a new GOP majority in the House and a Democratic President. Naively, I thought this was the perfect time to have the parties get together on cuts and reallocations, per the Clinton-Gingrich model.
Unfortunately, it never happened because there was no cooperation at all between the Congress and the President. Here is another try at what should, and could with bi-partisan action, happen to balance our budget:
1. Make our allies do more and pay their fair share: Trump, Rand Paul, and others are correct. Our allies don’t do enough. Europe, Japan, South Korea, and others should pay more for their defense. These nations and our middle eastern “allies” should all supply more troops and treasure to stop ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. Saudi Arabia has a special responsibility in that it funds Wahhabi schools which have promoted terrorism.
2. Reverse the “temporary” Bush tax cuts, later signed into law by Obama under pressure from Congress. The cuts significantly contributed to the creation and growth of our deficit.
3. Save Social Security by taxing all income (versus benefit reductions). The current cut off is $127,000.
4. Increase Medicare/Medicaid fraud manpower. Adding staff will save many times its cost.
5. Reform medical malpractice laws to prevent unjustifiable awards. Establish administrative law courts, eliminating emotional jury trial awards.
6. Have the CBO analyze the long term feasibility (benefits/cost) of expansion of Medicare to cover all. Our cost per capita for healthcare is rising rapidly and is already much higher than any other nation while our mortality/morbidity is worse.
7. Establish a bi-partisan commission, which will bring in independent experts to determine how we can cut military expenditures, closing unused bases for example. We spend more on our military than the next ten nations combined. Eisenhower was correct about the dangers of the military-industrial complex getting out of hand.
8. Cut total federal employees by one percent per year for the next 10 years. Government at all levels adds employees when needed and never cuts them where they are not.
9. Eliminate corporate welfare, such as farm subsidies, breaks for oil companies, and real-estate tycoons. There is a reason Trump will not release his taxes.
10. Increase national gasoline taxes. We have some of the lowest in the world.
11. Add IRS staff to audit high-worth individuals and corporations, generating much more in taxes than it will cost.
12. Bring back zero-based budgeting. In other words, examine existing programs regarding budget cuts rather than just looking at new expenditure items.
13. Have capital gains and dividends taxed as ordinary income versus a flat 15 percent. This is a key mechanism for the ultra-wealthy to avoid taxes. Remember Mitt Romney paying just 13 percent?
The goal of a balanced budget can be achieved technically. The key is to analyze benefits versus costs for each program while taxing equitably.
The real obstacle to progress is the American voter. As I learned when I was Chairman of a County Commission, citizens want more services, but fewer taxes. That just does not compute.

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